Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs

The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs
Urmila Pawar
Translated from the Marathi by Maya Pandit
Afterword by Sharmila Rege
demy octavo pb 348pp ISBN 9788185604909 Rs 375 Aug 2008

Aaydan, Urmila Pawar’s thought-provoking memoirs, spares no one, including herself. The author links her mother’s act of weaving baskets, aaydans, to her own ‘act of writing’. Translated for the first time into English as The Weave of My Life, Urmila’s memoirs describes the long journey from a Konkan village to Mumbai, bringing to fruition the struggle of three generations for a dalit modernity, about which readers have hitherto heard so little.
Urmila writes frankly of the ‘private’ and ‘public’ aspects of her life: of falling in love with Harishchandra as a young teenager, and marrying him in the teeth of family opposition, of the young couple and their children moving to Mumbai, of her many sustaining friendships with women and her work. Her talking openly about familial and marital conflicts, of the grievous shocks that life dealt her, outraged male dalit writers. A long-term member of the dalit and women’s movements, Urmila Pawar offers a cogent critique of feminist and dalit-politics. Her account of how she began to write, to participate in dalit literary conferences and founded a women’s literary conference are engaging. Like her work with Meenakshi Moon on dalit women in Ambedkarite movement, now archived, her memoirs too are of high documentary value. Sharmila Rege provides an incisive Afterword, placing the book within its tumultuous social context.

Urmila Pawar is a distinguished writer of fiction in Marathi. Her autobiography, Aaydan, received major awards, Maharashtra Foundation, USA, Padmashree Vikhe Patil; Matoshree Bheemabai Ambedkar; Priyadarshini Academy. A noted translator of Marathi literature into English, Maya Pandit is Professor, department of ELT, EFLU, Hyderabad. Sharmila Rege is Professor of Sociology, University of Pune.


'Aydaan was published when Pawar was 58. Yet, writing about her childhood, she slips easily and unaffectedly into the dialect of her growing-up years. Her language changes imperceptibly as she moves into adolescence, lit up by her love for Harishchandra till, in the final section, it acquires the polish of standard Marathi. Pawar’s language thus mirrors the journey she had made from the days when she avoided both baths and school to a time when she yearned for knowledge and visited dalit bastis advising women on cleanliness and hygiene. There is one feature of her persona that runs through the entire account — her ironic view of life and her irrepressible sense of humour. The latter is brilliantly revealed in her account of her first night with her husband in a crummy lodge with a bagful of live clams, her mother’s gift, chattering away under the bed...
Maya Pandit’s Introduction is illuminating. It locates Pawar’s book in the intertwining social contexts of caste and women’s issues, and in the literary context of autobiographies by members of the scheduled castes and scheduled and nomadic tribes that had appeared in the 25 years preceding her memoirs, starting with Daya Pawar’s Baluta, which first shook the upper-caste, middle-class reading public out of their complacence'.
Shanta Gokhale: The Hindu Literary Review 1 Feb, 2009

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